With David Cameron in Chippenham, it was left to the Europe Minister David Lidington to respond to Jeremy Corbyn’s urgent question. Cameron’s absence was poor form. Lidington manfully tried to claim that it was explained by the fact the government didn’t know when Tusk would publish the draft, but the media were only alerted that Cameron would give a speech in Chippenham after Tusk had said the deal would be announced at midday today.
Number 10 is defending Cameron’s absence by pointing to the fact he’d already decided to give a statement to parliament tomorrow—once the MPs have had a chance to examine the deal. But it was entirely predictable that Cameron would be urgent questioned once the proposed deal was published, and he should have been in the Commons to answer questions about it.
In Cameron’s absence, Lidington—one of the safest pairs of hands in the government—batted away questions. In response to a question from Nigel Dodds of the DUP, Lidington wouldn’t outline any areas where the government wanted to improve the deal that Tusk has outlined. This combined with Cameron’s assertion that he would choose to join the EU on these proposed terms is a clear indication that the government is happy with what is currently on the table. It was telling, though, that when pressed on detail by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lidington was quick to change the subject.
For the most part, the exchanges between Lidington and Conservative sceptics were fairly good natured. Steve Baker, of Conservatives for Britain and Lidington’s constituency neighbour, asked Lidington if he had been reduced to ‘polishing poo’ but Lidington seemed to find this more amusing than offensive. Bernard Jenkin injected some needle into proceedings when he told Lidington ‘we don’t believe you’ that this deal was the end to Britain being dragged into ever greater integration.
When Cameron comes to the Commons tomorrow, watch to see which Cabinet ministers are absent from the front bench. This will give us an indication of which of them intend to campaign for Out in the referendum.